December was one of the cruellest months in what has already been a very cruel year for Qatar’s animals. A fire in September devastated the only shelter in the country, run by the Qatar Animal Welfare Society (QAWS). Dozens of animals died in the blaze and months later, QAWS is still struggling to help the survivors. Thankfully, the future of the shelter now looks brighter – a new purpose-built steel facility is to be built, complete with classrooms and educational facilities – but the present situation remains dire.
‘We’re desperately trying to get some kind of temporary shelter up,’ says QAWS adoption coordinator, Kelly Allen. ‘We’re still looking for foster homes. We’re desperately trying to get more people to adopt animals as well.’ The initial groundswell of support that arose in the fire’s aftermath has faded. Many of the animals that were taken into foster homes were later returned as some foster owners found they could no longer keep them.
‘As far as facilities are concerned, we still have nothing,’ Allen says. Indeed, a sandy lot and a few scraps of burnt metal are still all that remain of the kennels and cat shelter, though a temporary shelter should be in place by the new year. About 20 cats that escaped the blaze roam the field, gathering for meals provided by QAWS staff. They’ll come for food, and occasionally for air-conditioning, but the fire has instilled in many of them a fear for indoor living.
Thirty rescued dogs and puppies were staying in the adjacent Paws and Claws boarding facility in mid-November, along with one blind kitten and one very affectionate cat. But these animals mean fewer spaces for paying customers to board their animals. That equals less cash coming in for QAWS. ‘That’s our livelihood, and it’s currently not taking in any customers because it’s full of rescues,’ says Allen.
QAWS has been in a nearly six-year-long dialogue with the government to gain registered charity status, and will only be able to officially accept donations once that happens. Meanwhile, rent, water, electricity, food, and vet bills pile up. ‘We’re completely reliant on people bringing down bags of food,’ says Allen. Hay (for farm animals like the bull and donkey), cat food and water are among the much-needed items. QAWS doesn’t have storage space for durable goods such as animal beds, toys, and other materials until a new shelter is built.
Sadly, fewer people came around to help out in December. Many volunteers leave the country on holidays, while others are literally fair weather friends. The rains come and the roads turn muddy, so fewer people choose to slog through the muck and take dogs on their requisite walks.
The animals haven’t taken a holiday from needing help. ‘The phone doesn’t stop ringing,’ says Allen, as her phone buzzes and beeps. ‘From 7am until midnight.’ On a typical day, she gets eight to 10 calls about animals needing homes or other help. This time, it’s from a real estate agent who found a German shepherd living in a villa abandoned by its family a few weeks prior. On another recent occasion, a manager at an industrial site called about 30 dogs gathered there, apparently having been thrown out by their respective owners. There are no rules about what do in such situations, especially with no shelter to house the animals.
Somehow, QAWS workers and volunteers slap together ways to keep their ship from completely sinking. Someone puts together a fundraiser, so the long-overdue veterinarian bill gets paid. Someone else helps out – unofficialy, of course – by taking care of the rent. Pretty much anyone remotely associated with QAWS keeps a menagerie of rescued creatures at home, in their spare bedrooms, bathrooms and closets. ‘If it wasn’t for our volunteers,’ Allen says, ‘we would have closed years ago.’
Life would be much easier if QAWS ever received status as a registered charity. There are private and corporate donors who have pledged funds to help, but must wait until QAWS gets its papers. QAWS would then be able to buy land instead of renting, and could build a permanent shelter. There would be more money for vet bills, food, and supplies. ‘We’re still here and we’re still doing it,’ says Allen, after all that QAWS has faced this year. ‘It’s just harder.’
There are still ways that people can help. Over the winter, QAWS is in critical need for people to walk the dogs. People can donate food and water as well. And there’s always great demand for adoptive and foster pet owners. Call +974 539 7074, email firstname.lastname@example.org or visit www.qaws.org if you can help.